Doctor Who and Torchwood


Doctor Who (2005-    )
Torchwood (2006-    )
Type: Spin Off
Group: 27

   There are a number of ways spin offs come to be. You have some where someone decides a supporting character on a hit show is strong enough and popular enough to carry a show of their own. Then you have the cases where a character or characters are introduced on a hit show for the explicit purpose of starting a new show. Usually in either case it comes down to someone behind the scenes wanting to capitalize on the success of the original show's popularity. Torchwood seems a bit different to me though. Yes, it got spun off to capitalize on Doctor Who being a hit. Here's where it's different though. Most spin offs start with someone behind the scenes actively thinking, okay, how do we do a spin off? But with Torchwood... Torchwood seems like maybe the first spin off that forced itself into existence. Like, it just sort of organically evolved and demanded that it be spun off. That's not to say there weren't writers working hard to make the show a reality. Allow me to elaborate.

   Torchwood is a spin off of the 2005 revival of Doctor Who. Doctor Who started out as a low budget but hugely popular British science fiction series that ran from the sixties through the eighties. It followed the adventures of a time traveler known only as The Doctor. The show followed the adventures of The Doctor and his various companions as they traveled across time and space in the TARDIS, a time machine that looked like a British callbox on the outside and was impossibly bigger on the inside. It also bears mentioning that The Doctor had the power to regenerate himself: if The Doctor was ever killed he had the ability to come back to life as a new person. Thus whenever an actor tired of playing The Doctor he could be bumped off and replaced with a new actor.

   In 2005 the show was revived in a new upgraded version. The effects were better and the budget was clearly higher. Aside from the slicker look it was still Doctor Who though: crazy quirky adventures with a various companions. With such a popular franchise coming back to TV there was a lot of advance excitement and such which could lead to security issues. Standard procedure for any movie or TV show in that position is to have a codename for the show while it's in production to help keep things under raps. Everybody is going to try to get a look at the reels of footage for, say, the latest Indiana Jones movie. But nobody is going to try and sneak a peak at that film if the cans are labeled Crazy Monkey Beach Party (okay, I would want to peak at reels labeled Crazy Monkey Beach Party). Looking for an alias to use to throw off the snoops, the folks at Doctor Who hit upon the name Torchwood, Torchwood being an anagram of Doctor Who. So the new Who is barely even born and the spin off's title has already popped up.

   So the new Doctor Who hits the air. The new Doctor's first companion was the lovely Rose Tyler. The ninth episode found The Doctor and Rose to World War II England and the Blitz. A strange, creepy child wearing a gas mask is wandering the streets looking for his "mummy". People are falling strangely ill, the final stage of that sickness being their becoming zombish monsters, their faces transmogrifying into a gas masks. Creepy creepy story. In the course of their adventure they ran across a mysterious rogue named Captain Jack Harkness. Well, he says that's his name. Captain Jack was actually another time traveler from the far flung future, a sort of time cop. Well... he SAYS he's a time cop. Hard to really nail down was is really the truth with Jack. He's the ultimate charming rogue, in love with himself but out to romance everyone else around. And being from a more liberally minded future I literally mean everyone, man or woman. By the time they left WWII Captain Jack had thrown in with Rose and The Doctor as a member of their crew, flirting terribly with both of them. He stuck around through the end of the season.

   The first season finale found our heroes in a no win battle to the death. Captain Jack laid down his life and died keeping The Doctor and Rose safe. But meanwhile Rose was being suffused with crazy amounts of strange energy which she used to help save the day. At the same time that power managed to bring Captain Jack back from the dead. Not knowing this, Rose and The Doctor left in the TARDIS, accidentally abandoning Captain Jack. But Jack wasn't the only one to die and return. As a result of their adventure, The Doctor was also mortally wounded and was forced to regenerate.

   Now while he was still on Doctor Who John Barrowman, the actor who played Captain Jack, said in an interview that he would love if Captain Jack could get his own show. Okay, we have a cool title, we have a charming, mysterious character free to be used and the actor who played him actively hoping for a spin off. But there was already even more than that! The first season also accidentally put in place two other cast members, the setting for the new show and one of its central premises. Episode 4 of the first season, Aliens of London centered on an alien invasion of London and featured the introduction of a minor supporting character, a woman named Dr. Sato. She was one of those small almost background characters that pop up in shows that normally you would never see again. Normally.

   Then there is the episode right before Aliens of London, The Unquiet Dead. That episode had The Doctor and Rose visiting the British town of Cardiff in 1869. Weird and seemingly ghostly things are happening in Cardiff. What seems super natural ends up actually being science fiction. Seems there is a rift in time and space situated in Cardiff and the "ghosts" are actually alien life forms sneaking through the rift into our world. All would have ended badly if it weren't for the noble actions of s charming servant girl named Gwyneth, played by Eve Myles. Eve Myles was quite memorable. She, Cardiff and the rift all must have stuck in the minds of the producers. In fact Cardiff and the rift even made a return appearance on Doctor Who with the Doctor stopping by the current day location of the rift to take advantage of its properties in the episode Boom Town.

   Now, by the end of Doctor Who season 1 the producers, they've gotta be actively thinking spin off. I truly believe many of the elements in season 1 that would become Torchwood were not created with Torchwood in mind (although the name Torchwood is mentioned in season 1 as a mysterious organization). I think most of them were just there organically, not planned. But after season one the show starts laying in even more elements for the spin off in a way that seems pretty intentional.

   Between the first and second season there was a Doctor Who Christmas special featuring the first of the "new" Doctor's adventures. Aliens attack England at Christmastime while The Doctor is still in the process of regenerating. This culminates in a battle in which two important things happen. First, while confronting the aliens on their ship as it hovers over London, the aliens lop off The Doctor's hand which falls to the city below. Luckily The Doctor was still regenerating and so was able to grow a new hand. Secondly, the mysterious Torchwood organization fully reveals itself for the first time as an agency created to protect Earth from alien invaders. The Doctor saves Earth with little bloodshed on either side of the fight. Torchwood then steps in and viciously destroys the retreating enemy ship, earning The Doctor's hatred.

   Next comes the second episode of season 2, Tooth and Claw, had Rose and the "new" Doctor traveling to 19th century Scotland and saving the life of Queen Victoria from evil forces at the Torchwood estate. While Queen Victoria is very thankful, The Doctor bothers her. She knights him for his service and then banishes him. Troubled by The Doctor and the strange forces she has just faced, she forms the Torchwood Institute to guard against such troubles in the future and, if need be, to confront The Doctor himself. The end of the second season would see Torchwood in full action with Rose and The Doctor against a double alien invasion that would leave the organization largely destroyed.

   Wow. All that and I'm only now actually able to get to the actual spin off. That's what I'm talking about with this show. What other spin off has this much back story build up, this much groundwork in place? Now let me explain how ALL of that pays off...

   Torchwood the series centers on the Cardiff branch of Torchwood. While there are other branches of the organization, with the London division decimated Cardiff is now the main hub of the organization. This branch of Torchwood was originally put in place in Cardiff to guard against trouble from the rift introduced in Doctor Who. In fact their base is located directly underground from where the Doctor parked his TARDIS to take advantage of the rift in Boom Town. In the first episode we are introduced to the world of Torchwood through the eyes of Gwen Cooper, a police officer who stumbles into a Torchwood investigation and practically forces her way into a job with the group. Gwen is played by the same actress who played Gwyneth the servant girl in The Unquiet Dead. Hmm. Same town, similar name... could they be related?

   I have to say, I love our first look at Torchwood. It's a large, old and dirty underground complex filled with amazing sights and people doing intense research. Right from you get hit with the dual vibes of it being a place filled with wonders and also impossibly as a workplace filled with people just as bored and annoyed by where they work as everyone else is with where they work.

   The team is lead by Captain Jack Harkness. Wait, didn't we leave him stranded in the future? How did he get to present day Cardiff? Why is he working for Torchwood? Why does he have a severed hand in a jar? And, say, why is he now impossible to kill? Okay, I will now spoil what I can. After being brought back from the dead, Captain Jack time jumped to the past. He was aiming for around the year 2000, hoping to reconnect with The Doctor if he stopped by again to use the Cardiff rift. But Jack's time travel gear messed up and shot him further back more towards 1900 and then fritzed out on him entirely. As luck would have it, when Rose brought Jack back to life, she did too good a job, infusing him with so much life force making him unkillable and nearly immortal. Since we last saw him Jack had lived 100 years. More unaccounted for time and adventures. Hitting the 20th century, Jack headed to Cardiff hoping to find The Doctor. Torchwood was right under where he knew The Doctor would eventually come to use the rift. And he found that hand which he knew was The Doctors, which he knew he could use as a Doctor detector. This lead to Jack's return to Doctor Who as a companion. At the end of Torchwood's first season, The Doctor finally arrived and Jack took off with him for a chunk of The Doctor's third season at the end of which he decided to return to Torchwood. More mystery was also added to Jack at this point. Jack tells a story about how he was the poster boy from his area for recruitment in the time police because of his good looks. "The Face of Boh they called me." Well, The Face of Boh is a Doctor Who character which appeared in the second episode of the new series. The Face of Boh was a giant head that floats in a smoke filled container, a being supposedly older than time itself and nearly immortal. Boh popped up in several episodes of Doctor Who. If Jack truly is The Face of Boh (how far can you trust anything Jack says) it increases his presence in the Who series dramatically. That revelation retroactively places Jack in the very very start of the new series.

   So we have Jack. Gwen is brought onto the team to serve as a heart and conscience for the largely cynical group. Owen Harper was the team's snarky medical expert. Suzie Costello did research for the group on some of the alien artifacts they recovered. Did. Past tense. In the first episode she was seduced by her research into some dark dark deeds leading to her own death. She bears mentioning though since she has already returned from death once to cause trouble in the awesomely titled They Keep Killing Suzie. Ianto serves as the group's... manservant? He keeps an eye on the phony business that serves as Torchwood's front entrance and handles much of the day to day minutiae of running the group. And, hey, remember that bit player doctor from the alien invasion episode of Doctor Who? Toshiko Santo? She's the group's science expert. I like that a lot. Not just that they would bring back her character but that it fits. She was just a regular civilian, then she falls into this Doctor Who story which exposes her to the truth about aliens and the other dangers people aren't generally aware of and that leads her into actually working in that field of research. That instantly gives her character more back story and texture than if they just invented a brand new character you'd never heard of.

   On my Doctor Who/Doctor Who page I mention that the new Doctor Who in many ways echoes Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Oddly Torchwood echoes the Buffy spin off Angel. Okay, the obvious comparison is to The X-Files government agency looking into aliens. But consider it. Angel was about a handsome immortal Vampire trying to regain his humanity while he and his coworkers/friends fight to protect his city from supernatural forces. The show itself had a darker and more mature tone than Buffy. Now look at Torchwood. It's about a handsome immortal trying to regain his mortality while he and his coworkers/friends fight to protect their city and country from supernatural forces. Heck Torchwood even had on James Marsters who played Spike on Angel and Buffy. Spike was a troublemaking vampire friend from the bad old days Angel was trying to live down. On Torchwood he plays Captain John Hart a troublemaking time agent friend from the bad old days Captain Jack is trying to live down. The only difference might be that Captain Jack and Captain John also clearly had an intimate relationship. It was never stated that Angel and Spike were likewise initimate. Although, given their long history together and the no-limits lifestyle they enjoyed it actually is likely they did.

   While I'm on the subject of sex, I should tell you in advance this show does play pretty loose and easy with sexuality and fidelity. I mean, okay, Captain Jack is a swinging anything-goes charmer from the future. But every single character on the show has shown some evidence of bi-sexuality. Jack and Ianto are both clearly open to relationships with men or women. Owen has multiple times implied he'd swing with a guy. And both of the ladies have run into circumstances where they have been seduced by another woman. I should say with the women at least the situation was ushc where they played up their own shock at discovering they could go that way. And I'm even being judgemental. Live and let live and all that but... you're telling me that five out of five of them all are bi. Not even gay, bi. I think the thinking behind the scenes might be to present a world where people's sexuality can be whatever they want it to be without ANY sexual orientation being demonized. Nice idea but, well, given the crazy concepts flying around on a show like this they do need to keep the show grounded in what feels like the real world. Sometimes I think they miss that mark.

   For instance in a time travel episode where Captain Jack and Toshiko end up in WWII England. They're smart enough to acknowledge and deal with the fact that Toshiko is a Japanese woman in a country that would look at her as "the enemy". But another plot had Captain Jack Harkness meeting up with the real Captain Jack Harkness. Seems he borrowed that identity from a dead American pilot when he was last in that era. Well this time he arrives at a point in time when the original Captain Jack was still alive. Our Captain Jack and the original Captain Jack fall in love with each other. Now the conceit is a funny one: Captain Jack is such an egotist the only person he would ever truly fall in love with would be himself. And there is room for real social drama in it. A man who has to contend with being gay at a time and in an occupation that make it extremely taboo. I'm with them. Then we get to where Jack and Toshiko leave for the future through a rip in time. Before leaving, Jack turns back and does a big farewell face suck with the real Captain Jack. Only thing is he does this in the middle of a party crowd of WWII era citizens and Gis. And it's no small kiss. It's a big one that last a looong time. And there is no indication that they are outside of time or anything like that. The people back in WWII can see everything. Nobody seems to bat an eye or care or anything. Okay there is also a big time rip there which might be a bigger shocker I guess but still, it undercut the believability of the scene. Nobody bats an eye??? The plot was that the next day the real Captain Jack flies a mission and dies. I would think that making out with another dude in front of other soldiers might just change that. I'm seeing at minimum some possible fights with other soldiers or to the more extreme the potential for him not flying the mission because he'd be in more than a little trouble with the military. Again, the idea of showing openness towards sexual preferences flies in the face of the reality of the world they were playing in.

   As a final note, the ties to Doctor Who look to continue with The Doctor's recent companion Martha Jones helping out the Torchwood team.

Other Doctor Who Crossover Links
Doctor Who and Doctor Who
Doctor Who and The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy
Doctor Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures


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